NBA legend Michael Jordan has a new goal for Bubba Wallace following 23XI Racing’s first ever top five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Entering Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway, the 19th race on the 36-race 2021 schedule, Bubba Wallace was one of only four points-eligible full-time drivers who had not yet secured a top 10 finish this year.
The other three? Front Row Motorsports rookie Anthony Alfredo, StarCom Racing’s Quin Houff, and Rick Ware Racing’s Josh Bilicki, three drivers with whom Wallace should probably not be keeping company in any statistical category.
Wallace drives the #23 Toyota for the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated 23XI Racing in their first season as a Cup Series team, and as expected, there have been growing pains. Still, the 27-year-old Mobile, Alabama native had high hopes entering the year, including making the playoffs and recording at least two victories.
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While he has not yet achieved either one, he did manage to finish in a team-best fifth place in Sunday’s 140-lap race around the three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Tricky Triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
This result, which was just his fourth top five finish in 131 career starts, bumped him up into a 19th place tie in the point standings, 54 points below the playoff cut line with seven regular season races remaining on the schedule. His previous best finish for the team had been an 11th place effort at Dover International Speedway in mid-May.
NBA legend Michael Jordan, who co-owns the new team along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, took notice. And now he has a new weekly goal for Wallace.
As reported by Sports Business Journal‘s Adam Stern, Wallace received a text from Jordan after his fifth place finish which stated that his expectation is now that Wallace will finish every race inside the top 10.
Given the fact that this top five finish was also Wallace’s first top 10 finish in 19 starts for 23XI Racing, plus the fact that it came in a fuel mileage race where several frontrunners had to pit late, this is probably a pretty lofty goal.
However, it is also pretty clear that there have been some serious strides made by the new team. Through 12 races, Wallace had finished no higher than 16th place. But in the last seven races, he has recorded five top 14 finishes.
So running in the top 10 consistently is a reasonable goal at this point, especially since Wallace had been performing well enough to consistently finish inside the top 15 ahead of his first top five finish of the year.
Hamlin had also said that his goal for the team was to be running better in the summer than in the spring and running better in the fall than in the summer. Jordan’s goal for Wallace perfectly aligns with that goal and is effectively a continuation of what the driver of the #23 Toyota has done over the last few weeks.
Do bear in mind the fact that Jordan said at the beginning of the year that he doesn’t sign checks for losers and he expected Wallace to win. Can he climb the next step and finish in the top 10 consistently?
Wallace will go for his second consecutive and overall top 10 and top five finish of the 2021 season in this Sunday afternoon’s Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America. This race is set to be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.